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Protecting Your Vision in a Digital Society

How Screen Time Affects Your Eyes

Due to an aging population and growth in technology use, the number of people in the United States who are visually impaired is expected to double by 2050. An estimated 93 million U.S. adults are at high risk for vision loss, but only half have visited an eye doctor in the past 12 months.

Digital Devices and Your Eyes

While digital devices are useful for making things more efficient, they may be causing harm to your eyes in ways you may not have considered. The average person in the U.S. spends about seven hours daily looking at a screen — whether it’s a cellphone, tablet, computer or television. Constantly staring at a screen is detrimental to eye health and can result in retinal damage.  

Blue light, which comes from both the sun and digital screens, has high energy. Too much exposure can negatively impact eye health. Symptoms of eye strain from prolonged screen use can include:

Michelle E. Andreoli, MD, an ophthalmologist at Northwestern Medicine, emphasizes the impact digital screens have on eye health. According to Dr. Andreoli, people working on computers do not blink as often as they normally would. Each time you blink, tears spread across the front surface of the eye, known as the cornea. Tears provide lubrication and reduce the risk of eye infection. When you do not have enough tears to nourish your eyes, they can become irritated. “This will cause our eyes to become hazy, blurry and burn,” she explains. “In turn, you may feel tired and fatigued."

Glasses or Contacts

Another cause of eye strain could be the type of eyeglass lenses you wear, such as progressive, single vision or bifocal.

"We all love the convenience of a progressive bifocal, but the section of our progressive lenses made for computer vision is near the bottom of the lens and is very narrow in the lens, typically," Dr. Andreoli says. "With this situation, we have to tip our chin up to read clearly. This can cause significant eye strain and fatigue."

 If you are thinking about switching to contact lenses, Dr. Andreoli advises you ease into it.

"Reintroducing contact lenses can be difficult, as our eyes have become drier from extensive computer work," she says. "The best way to start to wear your contacts is two hours the first day, four hours the second day, six hours the third day, eight hours the fourth day, and continue this pattern until you can wear them for 12 hours," says Dr. Andreoli. "Also, as one reintroduces contacts, be sure to keep the eyes well lubricated with over-the-counter artificial tears for enhanced comfort."

Reduce the Strain

The digital lifestyle many people have due to remote work makes staring at a screen much of the day unavoidable. However, there are ways to ease the strain on eyes.

"The longer our eyes are on our screens, the more fatigued and strained our eyes become," says Dr. Andreoli. "Taking frequent breaks and minimizing recreational screen time helps our eyes stay healthy and makes them less tired." You can do  other things, too, such as:

  • Adjust the brightness of your monitor
  • Use eye drops
  • Reduce glare from blinds or fluorescent bulbs
  • Check your air quality

Dr. Andreoli also suggests the rule of 20s: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. In addition, try to minimize screen time to let your eyes rest. 

Your Child's Eyes

To help protect your child's eye health, the first step is to schedule an eye exam. Children should have at least one vision screening between the ages of 3 and 5.

"As parents, this may seem overwhelming," says Dr. Andreoli. "But these exams can be fun and easy for children. We typically use sprays instead of eye drops, play games and are devoted to making the experience simple for kids. After kindergarten, children should be undergoing eye exams every two to three years unless a teacher, parent or student notices a problem."

Learn more about eye care.